Gaming Tonic

Favorite Part of D&D Next, Poll Results

With the release of the second packet of Open Playtest material for D&D Next by Wizards of the Coast it seemed like a good time to close the poll I had running, Your Favorite Part of D&D Next.  I was surprised by the results and the amount of response.  I was sure that advantage/disadvantage would win hands down.  It did well but was only third in the voting.  I guess I don’t know the mindset of every Dungeons & Dragons player.  Let’s take a look at the responses and what that could mean for the next edition.

47% of the voters listed Backgrounds as their favorite part of the playtest material.  I'm a fan of the Background in the character generation process because it allows for a little customization beyond that of class and race.  It also helps to bind a character concept by creating a suggestion for your backstory.  This is a great thing for new players as they can kind of just use the Background whole cloth or change a bit here or there.  Some players may see it as an excellent guideline that can be another background entirely simply by changing the name of the background.

In second place was Ability Based Saves with 21% of the vote. This is one of the mechanics that I particularly enjoy.  It makes a dump stat mean a lot more to the character.  No longer can you dump Intelligence because you have Dexterity.  The dump stat is still available; there is just a price to be paid now.  It also doesn’t add in another unnecessary mechanic to the game.  There is already a number associated with an ability so no need to complicate simple beauty.  When you take out unnecessary mechanics like Fortitude, Reflex, and Will saves, or Breath Weapon, Rod, Staff, Wand, or Paralyzation, Poison, Death Magic, then there is less that can be exploited.  If the rule never existed, if the option wasn’t there, then nobody could take advantage of a way that the mechanic wasn’t intended.  I am beginning to believe in game design that often less is a whole lot more.

The Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic took 16% of the vote and I am not surprised.  Of all the changes in D&D Next I think this is one of the more dramatic.  When I was first introduced to the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic I was a bit overwhelmed.  Then after playtesting I see the potential for the game and for cinematic enjoyment.  I think that as long as characters and monsters are not just granted the ability to cause disadvantage on their enemies’ at-will, then this will probably be a lot of fun for the players and the DM.  I'm down with including a Minor and Major Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic.  The minor mechanic would allow a plus or minus 2.   I think this allows for a lot of flexibility in storytelling, character powers and spells, environmental factors, and more, but saves the extra d20 roll for the moments more critical to the story.

Racial Features took home 5% of the vote and I was a little surprised by that.  I attribute this lower popularity a bit too only receiving the four races (dwarves, elves, halflings, and humans), instead of something that has come along more recently like dragonborn, tiefling, or revenant.  I thought that humans had enough of a change that it would have created more buzz among gamers.  I like playing dwarves and like what I see so far.  The recently released second open playtest packet makes me even more excited to see what is being done with races as a whole.  We'll save my thoughts on the second playtest packet for a different article.

Healing took 5% of the vote and I'm surprised by that because I like the healing but I didn't really consider it to be a favorite part.  I like the short and long rest mechanic but the hit die thing is a bit like healing surge and that created a few storytelling problems in 4th Edition, in my opinion.  If it is an option that allows for self healing apart from the healing mechanic of the cleric, then it has potential. Let's hope the healing is worked out early in the playtest process since it's such a major part of Dungeons & Dragons.

The last five percent of the vote went to Backgrounds and Themes together.  It is logical with Themes coming so late in the 4th Edition that they would show up in D&D Next.  Themes were a great idea to give players a push in a certain direction which can help role-playing.  It was better than a secondary skill anyway.  The new poll is up and make sure to vote.  Until next time, Roll Hard!


What Classes Aren’t Necessary in D&D Next, Poll Results

I love to run polls on Gaming Tonic and my last poll had a lot of feedback because the whole D&D Next thing has really increased the traffic.  The last poll that I ran was “What Class Can 5th Edition D&D Do Without?”  In my most recent interview with Mike Mearls I asked him about having fewer classes in Dungeons & Dragons and instead use another mechanic to represent certain builds.  In the interview I reference warlock, but it can apply to a lot of these classes.  Still perhaps some gamers just want a certain class to just go away, and that is the question asked in the poll.  Today I want to look at the results of the poll and see if the class just needs to go away or if it can perhaps be better represented with a different mechanic.

By a surge near the end of the poll, assassin overtook warlock and according to the fans is the class D&D can do without.  I happen to agree with this because any class can be an assassin.  Any character can be an assassin.  Looking at the pregen character sheets provided with the playtest we can see that assassin could look something like this and any character could be an assassin.

Background: Assassin

You have been trained in the art of assassination.  The exact tools of the trade vary from assassin to assassin, but certain abilities are common to get in to a position to get the job done.  You have training in the skills listed below and, and you gain any indicated bonus on any check involving that skill.

Stealth: +3

Bluff: +3

Poisons: +3

You also gain the background feature called Contraband

Contraband: If there is something that you is illegal in an area such as a certain poison, drug, or concealed weapon, you know just the spot where you might be able to find such an item.  Usually these items come at a hefty price but it is a small price to pay to get the job done and beneath the notice of witnesses or authorities.

This sort of build allows any character to use a poison, be stealthy, and able to talk their way in and out of situations which could expose their true mission.  Any character that kills for a gain of some sort could be an assassin, at least as we have come to use the term in D&D over the editions.  Now a cleric could have an assassin background and perhaps converted to her faith after having a change of heart.  A fighter could have been raised by a clandestine league of killers and ran away to join a militia and forget his roots.  The wizard could have been nearly successful in slaying a mage of some power who saw the potential for magic arts in them and took them under their wing and trained them in the arcane.  The rogue gets even better at getting in and out of places and is an obvious match for the background.

I told you before that warlock were the second most popular choice to not appear in D&D Next.  The idea that any character should be able to sell their soul to a greater power is something that I have had many discussions about with my group and other gamers online.  Using the same background formula as we have seen on the pregen character sheets we can apply the same idea we used for assassin to warlock.   Now we can’t tell if there will be something similar to feats in 3rd and 4th Edition that may come along that will allow for further customizations of characters.  If there is some sort of feat then that is where a character could concentrate on increasing the power and range of the warlock part of the build.

Bard came in third and that doesn’t surprise me.  From the early days the bard has been a hodgepodge of other classes.  Check out the rules in 1st Edition for becoming a bard to see exactly what I mean.  When I was doing the Friends & Family playtest I did see a theme (pretty much changed to background in open playtest material) called the minstrel.  That combined with some multi-classing could simulate what we have come to expect from the class.  Producing a bard character in this way allows one bard to be a master of the rapier and a poet of some skill.  Another, master of bits of information and lost lore that plays a pleasing lute and many songs from his travels.

Right behind bard in the voting was paladin.  A fighter/cleric multi-class with a paladin background could go a long way to capturing the feeling of the holy warrior.  I think that the paladin is such a part of Dungeons & Dragons at this point that we are guaranteed to see it for the next edition.   This blog by Bruce Cordell pretty much confirms it.  So does Mike Mearls in my interview, as well as the ranger.   The Paladin in Hell is the image that my mind conjures when I think adventuring in other dimensions and fighting true evil.

The druid rounded out the top five responses.  The druid is a difficult character for lots of campaigns to deal with for one reason or another.  I am not surprised to see the druid get so many votes.  In early editions the druid was difficult because of the requirements and constant battling to climb to the highest levels of the class.  They also had many abilities that were tied to specific environments which can always diminish the usefulness of a class.  I don't think the druid has really had the popularity over the editions as some of the other classes and I don't really expect that to change in the 5th Edition.  I did really like the idea and implementation of the swarm druid in 4e, that is all I have to say in defense of the druid.

The seeker, psion, monk, hexblade, wizard, and warlord all got a vote or two.  I am surprised to see anybody vote for wizard or warlord.  The wizard is a class that is D&D, but I get that a couple people have grown to dislike them over the editions.  The warlord is the one class besides fighter, wizard, cleric, and rogue, that the next edition needs to have.  It is the class that was missing from earlier editions and one of the best contributions that 4E has made to the game.  The seeker was a poor idea with poor implementation.  I am not a fan of psionics so the psion is no loss to me really.  D&D hasn't ever nailed the psionic mechanic in any edition, in my opinion.  Either two powerful or two bland, depending on which edition you were using.  The monk surprises me really.  I can accept the class in my games for some reason although I am not a fan of the class.  In thirty years I have never played one nor desired to.  I can see the wandering foreigner in the fantasy medieval setting working with relatively little work in almost any game.  I hope you enjoyed and if you didn't vote or have something to say, please leave a comment.  Until next time, Roll Hard!



My 5th Edition Playtest Experience

Wizards of the Coast have been gracious enough to lift my NDA about the D&D Next playtest so that I could discuss my feelings about it with my readers in advance of the open playtest.  My group and I have been play testing the game and have received two versions of it in that time.  The first version we received varied greatly from the version that I had played at the D&D Summit in December.  That would make three different progressions of the game and the open playtest will vary further still from previous material.  The system is obviously in flux and the designers are getting a lot of feedback and adjusting the rules to reflect this.  Check out my interview with Mike Mearls for more about what may be coming up mechanics wise.  Now let’s break down the mechanics and material that I have seen up to this point.

In my first playtest packet titled “Playtest 1.0” I received the Player Packet, DM Packet, Monster Packet, and The Caves of Chaos.  I printed it out and set about looking over the Player Packet.  The packet was really just the first few levels of the game as far as character creation, spell lists, monsters, and such.  I am sure my group would have no problem cranking out low level characters to assist the playtest.  The first thing I noticed was the importance of each of the six classic abilities.  Each of the abilities had a list of a few common saving throws that it could be tied to.  This was similar to what I had seen in at the D&D Summit and I thought that it was a brilliant idea.  There was no longer a dump stat.  We also had a few charts without much in the way of explanation as to what they meant.  One unexplained chart was attached to Charisma.  It listed a loyalty modifier and maximum henchman, which reminded me of earlier editions of D&D.  I asked Mike Mearls about the chart in my EN World interview with him.

The four races included in the playtest material were the same that you will be receiving in the open playtest.  The elf, dwarf, and halfling were similar to what we had come to expect over the editions.  Humans on the other hand were a bit different than they had appeared in the last two editions.  The extra skills and feats were gone and replaced with an expertise ability that allowed them to increase their chances of success anywhere in the game a certain amount of times a day.  After some playtesting the players in my group seemed comfortable with this new way of representing humans.

The first few levels of the fighter, cleric, rogue, and wizard were included in Playtest 1.0 as well.  I have five players so it would appear that one of the classes would get doubled up.  There were a good chunk of themes to make each character unique regardless if they were the same class.  There were also rules for multi-classing.  In the Monster Packet was a half-orc template as well so one of my players asked could he take that and apply it to his fighter character.  We only had four races available and it was a playtest so I figured why not.

We played for several weeks and found a few things that we thought did not work very smoothly or could perhaps be done a bit different.  Not everyone in my group agreed on what needed to be changed.  We are six different gamers with six different styles of gameplay after all.  Everyone in my group completed the questions that completed the first playtest cycle and it felt really good to be involved in something that would matter so much to our favorite hobby.

We then received Playtest Packet 1.5 which had lots of new stuff, including revisions, and character generation material for up to 10th level.  Now what we had in our hands felt a whole lot more complete and my players would be excited to make new characters.  We didn’t receive any new races or classes and we didn’t care.  The material included new abilities that were level based and dependent on race.  This was a pleasant surprise and I personally think it is cool when race has some sort of effect on your character after 1st level.  The classes also had a lot more options to pick from as they advanced and the themes provided more options when you leveled.

I was excited because my players had chosen the witch, commoner, pub crawler, minstrel, and acrobat themes.  The themes appeared to be constructed with a non-combat situation in mind for each one.  I knew I could take the gloves off as a DM and really see what the system could do and how my players could find the flaws.

Spells were familiar and resembled spells of earlier editions and not the slick standardized formula of 4th Edition.  I knew that this would have players using spells in creative ways that they were not designed for, and I couldn’t be happier.  I had missed that with 4E.  Some spells could be memorized at different levels for greater effects.  For example Blackstaff’s Dazing Blast can be memorized as a 1st, 3rd, 5th, or 7th level wizard’s spell.  Some spells also had natural 20 effects.  Blackstaff’s Dazing Blast has a natural 20 effect of more damage and the saving throw to resist it is Charisma based and then Wisdom based later in the spell’s effect.  This shows what I was speaking of earlier and the lack of a dump stat in D&D Next.

Rituals were mentioned in the Playtest Packet in several locations but did not appear in any of the playtest material that I received.  There were some magic items but the game seemed to play well with or without them.

Now from the DM side of things the game felt a lot like 2nd Edition with some of the wisdom that had been gained from the later editions.  The DM playtest packet had a few general guidelines for running the game and some magic items.  The magic items were a great addition to the material but the game functioned fine without magic items since the challenges didn’t scale in AC for no reason other than they were higher level.  That should be good news to the sword and sorcery fans out there.

The Monster Packet had a good variety of monsters although nothing close to the number you would find in a Monster Manual.  That was okay because rules for making your own monsters were included.  Several templates (champion, enlarged, reduced, and the standard bearer.  The monsters stat block were closer to versions from earlier editions than to 4th Edition except for the abilities and powers of the monsters seemed a bit more streamlined this time around.  That would be a bit of the 4E philosophy that if it didn't affect the combat the DM shouldn't have to sort through it to get to the powers he needs for the combat.

The Caves of Chaos felt very familiar to me but it was something entirely new to my group.  My players enjoyed the Caves of Chaos for a bit, but then we quickly set out into some homebrew adventures.  This allowed me to delve deeper into the combat and encounter set-up, as well as allow me to try out more of the other two pillars, exploration and role-playing.

Now for a bit of mechanics for those of you who have stuck with this blog this far.  Remember that the playtest is in flux and none of this is guaranteed to make its way into the open playtest.  Clerics had an ability to heal 3 times a day in addition to taking their normal action but not more than once around.  They could also stabilize a dying creature, returning them to 0 hit points so swiftly as to be able to take their normal action.  Clerics had much more that they could do such as spells and turning but I point out these changes to healing because in earlier editions being a "healing machine only" was often one of the complaints of the player who was playing the cleric.

All characters had a mechanic for multiple attacks as they went up in level but fighters started receiving multi-attacks earlier than the other classes.  The fighter also had the choice of receiving a bonus with all weapons or more damage or a special maneuver with a specialized weapon.  I know that specialization will be changing somewhat from what Mike Mearls answered to some of the interview questions.  That is okay fighters had more plusses to hit, damage output, and could soak damage, as well as a few other tricks.

Rogue was the most similar to what we have seen from earlier editions.  Lots of skills, sneak attack, relying on light weapons, and Dexterity.   The amount of skills that the rogue alone had access to made them feel very special, especially in the hands of the a wise player.  They still needed combat advantage to really bring the damage, but as they progressed in level they received an ability to help themselves out with that.

The wizard had a few magical feats that they could do as an at-will.  There was a line about being able to switch these out for other magical feats with the DM's permission.  Unfortunately we are not that far in the playtest process and more magical feats were not provided.  The wizard also had a lot of options to choose from as they leveled up.  They could focus in different areas of magic or perhaps get a familiar.  They also had spells at their disposal of course.

The option to multi-class was provided and it was not very difficult to do compared to some earlier editions.  It was more beneficial than multi-classing in 4E but if you do not use the mechanic wisely then you may be spread too thin to challenge creatures of your level.  That is why you play with friends.  I hope you enjoy the open playtest as much as I have enjoyed the playtest experience so far.  Until next time, Roll Hard!


Henchman, Familiars, Cohorts, and Companions: What Should D&D Next Do With Them?

Every player gets a character; it was that way in 1st Edition and will be that way in 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.  Henchman, familiars, beast companions, followers, mounts, constructs, and more can fill out the ranks of the adventuring party.  This can increase the time that a player’s turn takes to complete.  A companion, or NPC henchman and others can add another dimension to the character, hooks for the DM, fill in areas in which the party may be deficient, serve as a reward for an adventure successfully completed, and many other purposes.  I want to take a look at how these secondary characters (all inclusive for simplicity) have been handled in all the editions, which mechanics worked the best, why, and how they might be applied in the next edition of D&D.

We will start with henchman since they were around in the early days and gave another use for a Charisma stat.    The mechanic that allowed for any character to draw allies to him that would serve her as long as they were treated fairly was a positive and something a player could choose to use or not.  That really depended on if they player wanted the extra work and if it suited their character concept.  It worked well to create a thieve’s guild, a wizard academy, a group of man at arms for a liege lord.  If a knight has twenty archers that accompany him, in older editions they would be 0-level NPC’s, or in 4E I would handle it with minions.

I think henchman work well in games if you take care to use them in groups.  Group the henchman into smaller groups of even numbers, make sure that they all have the same plus to hit and damage, and roll multiple dice at a time.  It has been my experience in the past that groups of henchman can speed the game up sometimes outside of combat in positive and creative ways.  Having enough henchmen to rotate watch while the party rests, or knowing you can just leave a small contingent behind to guard the horses can quicken the pace of some bookkeeping.  If your group loves to role-play these situations out continuously that is fine as well.

That would bring us to the paladin’s warhorse.  I will include this to be thorough in the conversation.  The mechanic for the warhorse was always something that bothered me as a player (not that I ever rolled a paladin back in the day) because it was part of the power of the class but was out of the characters hands to make it useful.  The DM would have to run adventures that would allow the paladin to bring his warhorse so most dungeon explorations are eliminated.  In 5th Edition just save your gold and ask the DM if you can buy the finest horse available.  I am sure some template for an exceptional monster will exist and Rodney Thompson states that somewhat here.  In the meantime a few extra hp, a little extra speed, and a point in an ability, hit, or damage are a couple of examples the DM could use to toughen up a beast.

Familiars have been in the game along time as well.  In 2nd Edition if you didn’t roll a pseudodragon, your familiar was probably more of a liability than an asset.  Losing ability points or experience points when a familiar dies only made the familiar a target for intelligent monsters and PCs.  I am not sure if this made for a very heroic or exciting encounter.  If the familiar is granted as a class power in the next edition than much like the paladin’s warhorse it has to be useful in a variety of situations or give the caster some sort of boost.  If the familiar is gained from a feat the same is not necessarily true if feats are done as player choices as was done in the last couple of editions.  4th Edition handled the death of a familiar with a mechanic that was temporary limiting but had not long term effects.  We can hope this is one of the aspects of 4th Edition that is being included.

The cohort was introduced in 3rd Edition when you took the leadership feat.  The cohort was a lower level character built the same way as the PCs.  It was a good way to represent a character more powerful and perhaps important than a henchman but usually required a single player to control and role-play multiple characters in and out of combat.  Even if the DM role-played the cohort to help out the player from potentially having conversations with herself, the player controlling the cohort in combat could slow up the turn.  Now consider multiple players could have cohorts.  If the cohort was a spell caster because they usually have more options than the more martial characters it could delay everyone’s turn even more.  The caster cohort also had to prepare spells a lot of time just like a PC and that could slow down the game sometimes when choosing spells for the day.  Once again I like the way 4th Edition handled this for the most part with companion characters.

The companion character was a stripped down version of a PC.  They usually had a power or two to attack and defend with.  Those powers used the same mechanics that DMs and players had become accustomed to using for their own characters and monsters so they companions were easy to use.  A drawback to the companion the way they were presented in 4th Edition was that they only had two surges and could often be unable to continue after a single level encounter.  In the next edition I would like to see cohorts handled more like companions without the limited surges.  If the next edition doesn’t have surges and goes back to the hit point and healing system of editions prior to 4th Edition than problem solved.  The streamlined power system of the 4E companion and the healing problem solved either with more surges or just plain hit points and we have an option.

The animal companion has been several things over the course of the editions.  A loose series of hit dice that a druid or ranger (to a lesser extent) could use to gather a series of beast that accompanied the character on their adventures.  In the 4th Edition the ranger beastmaster was a build option and it did a good job of allowing this classic fantasy build its due diligence.  The system in 4E was quick and nobody had to wait for Dr. Doolittle to move around his army of squirrels.  The animal companion of the beastmaster lacked in surges like the companion character, but unlike the companion character you can bring the animal companion back from the dead easily.  The penalties for a ranger reviving an animal companion are minimal, so it is a viable way to build in D&D Next and have the character and companion play fast and easy.  Handling a host of smaller animals by grouping them as a swarm could be a solution if animal companion is included for the druid or ranger and the player wants a herd of smaller beasts.

The exact mechanics of how much of this would work will have to wait until more of the rules of 5th Edition are cemented.  I have several ideas but will wait until the public playtest to talk about those more in-depth.  I have playtested the game but have no idea if the game I have been playtesting is the game that will be included in the public playtest.  It is still easy enough to talk about it as a general idea and hearing what you have to say about henchman, familiars, cohorts, companions, and such, in the next edition of D&D would be great.  Feel free to leave a comment.  Until next time, Roll Hard!



3.5 Killed Vancian Magic, Can 5E Raise Dead?

Spell Book

So as we have read in Legends and Lore back in February from Monte Cook, 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons will include vancian magic either in the core or a modular addition.  That is a good idea when you consider the mission to draw elements from all editions to build a game that fans of all editions want to play together.  Vancian magic was the mechanic in all editions but 4th edition, and should feel comfortable to most fans of Dungeons & Dragons who have been playing for five or more years.  I have to admit that one of my reasons for burning out running 3.5 was this magic system.  It was fine for the first few levels but as wizards, clerics, sorcerers, and other spell casters began to climb in number of spells that were available to cast daily and the numbers of spells that were available per level, the pace of the game could slow quickly.

There are several reasons vancian magic can negatively impact the pace of your game and a few changes that the designers of the next edition may consider to allow players a different way to use the venerable magic system that doesn’t take the game over.  Don’t worry for every problem there is a solution, just sometimes not the right solution for everybody.  Sometimes it wasn’t even a problem in the first place for anybody.  With that in mind let us continue.

The first problem I have seen in my games is that a party will take a tremendous amount of time to arrive at a plan because the party has a lot of options for the magic wielding characters to consider casting before executing the plan.  The magic wielding characters may also have had to sift thru spell options while gathering intelligence to formulate the plan.  The decision of what spells will have to be layered and what are their durations so that they can be cast for maximum effectiveness during the coming events has to be given some thought as well.  That is a lot of a game time that can be dedicated to the magic aspect of D&D.  The non-spell casters can contribute as well by stealth, preparing an ambush point, and other things but these are usually handled quickly since they are often not covered in the rules and require quick descriptions with a couple of dice rolls to complete.

The easiest way to address this and pick up the pace of casting is to limit the amount of spells that a caster has running at one time.  Allowing a maximum amount of spell levels to be running simultaneously equal to the caster level +1 will help the pace not drag and allow the non-spellcasters more opportunities to get involved in the game.  Caster level +1 allows a first level caster to have two first level spells working at the same time.  Every time the caster gains a level he gains in his ability to control more magic power at one time.  A rogue who is stealthy will still be a valuable scout at 10th level because the wizard will not be able to cast fly, invisibility, protection from normal weapons, blur, mirror image, and stoneskin, all at the same time by 7th level.  That was in 3.5 D&D, so you could adjust the levels of spells a bit in D&D Next but I think players have become accustomed to the levels of their fireballs, magic missiles, and flamestrikes.

This allows the other characters to perhaps get involved in the game a bit more.  The wizard is much less likely to sneak on ahead and have a look if he can't layer up like a magical stealth tank.  Watch the rogue get their jobs back.  If 4th Edition taught us anything it was that a spell and a ritual could be two separate ways of casting magic.  The rogue's Open Locks skill is still a great skill that can get a lot of use if the wizard doesn't have a knock spell available with the flick of a wrist.  When the rogue can't pick the lock or a door can't be opened by picking or bashing the party takes ten minutes and the wizard handles the obstacle.  The cleric does not tend to do too much in the way of overlap at the the lower levels but at mid levels can begin to duplicate fighter pretty well in 3.5  D&D.  Teamed with the other caster characters, they can combine for twenty minutes of real world time spent layering before opening a door.  That is time that the non-spell casting players don't really get to play the game.  

Sure they can talk with each other in character at the end of the table but after a few minutes it is distracting to the DM who is trying to keep track of the spell stack being built in a few game rounds but way too much real world time.  They can describe themselves as sharpening weapons or polishing armor but it is really just filler until their characters get to play again.  The other night one of my players kicked an ancient, ornately carved door in that was seemingly valuable without a second thought and I was excited that the party would actually adventure instead of overwhelming the encounter with superior spell stacking.  I hope the designers of 5th Edition remember that defensive spells as interrupts took care of the need to stack magic before a fight.  Interrupts are good for defensive actions!

I would never fault my players for using their heads and taking advantage of the resources available to them to accomplish their goals. That is exactly what I do when I play.  In fact I appreciate that my players ask questions about their environment, it makes me think of lots of things on the fly and work on my DM skills while filling out details of my homebrew world.  I think a few tweaks to allow a bit of the positive things from 4th Edition and a rule or two like the Level +1 active magic rule, 5th Edition can allow for adventure and diversity in the feel of magic that 4E lacked.  Only with a balance that shares the game time and spotlight with the rest of the players.  I am pretty sure some of you are going to tell me what you think and I appreciate your passion for your hobby.  Until next time, Roll Hard!







Paragon Paths, Prestige Classes, Backgrounds, Themes: What Is Right For 5th Edition D&D?

The idea of modularity in 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons has had me thinking a lot about secondary skills, kits, paragon paths, themes, and backgrounds.  I throw kits in because that is kind of where crunch started in my memory.  I remember going to the game store in high school to purchase the 2nd Edition Complete Fighters Handbook in all its faux leather bound excellence.  This was real power build not like the secondary skills from 1st Edition which were nothing more than an occupation on a percentile chart with no description or listed game effect.  I had long been doing my best to find a way to distinguish my fighter from other fighters by more than weapon and armor used.  The kit provided that and some background elements to use with my character.  Kits were pretty much the first appearance of crunch.

Kits were new but in the end, much like feats not all kits were created equal.  That is okay because 3rd edition arrived and delivered the prestige class.  This wasn’t quite the same as it wasn’t selected at the beginning of a character’s career but something that the character could strive to attain.  Each prestige class had different prerequisites and occasionally level requirements. which was fine because the harder to attain the class the more powerful it was, typically.  Prestige classes worked well until crunch allowed for them to be achieved at a lower level than they were designed to be achieved.  The prestige classes with the level limitations took care of that problem but it didn't seem that most prestige classes had level minimums.

Right out of the gate 4th Edition D&D offered the paragon path and the epic destiny to allow characters to differentiate themselves in another way from others of their class.  This was followed up quickly by backgrounds and then last came the theme.  The theme and the background are selected at 1st level so they really do help players with creating a back story for their character if they follow the flavor text.  The paragon path and the epic destiny are achieved at 11th and 21st level respectively.  This cleared up many of the problems with the paragon path and achieving it earlier than intended but left a bit of a stale feeling especially for a Dungeon Master.  Backgrounds were simple but also very stale since one was essentially the same exact thing as another at least in terms of what perk was provided.

All of the characters achieving paragon paths and epic destines at the exact same time made it difficult to organically work them into a campaign in a meaningful way.  Often each had to just be given quick brush strokes by the DM which seemed to cheapen them a bit.  Perhaps because the characters just picked one when they reached 10th level and again at 21st level with almost no other requirements except maybe class or race further cheapened them.  As a DM if a character is going to achieve something of such significance that it will add a page to their character sheet then I want that to be an event.  It is hard to have it be an event when five characters achieve this at the exact same moment.

So with 5th Edition approaching open playtest I wondered which of these character building elements I most wanted to see appear in the next edition.  Let's start with the theme.  Chosen at 1st level in 4e, the theme was an addition to your class and race and usually granted a small ability to allow a character to differentiate themselves from others with the same class at the beginning of their career.  This added power can be a useful but limited power, a role-playing environment opportunity (Neverwinter Noble), or anything else that fits along as it makes sense for all classes to potentially take that theme.  If a theme grants proficiency with heavy armors and shields at 1st level but fighters are proficient with heavy armors and shields as a class ability than the theme would have no appeal to fighters.  Themes should appeal to all classes.

Prestige classes like I stated previously were only really missing a hard minimum level requirement in addition to any other prerequisites to work perfectly in the game.  You don’t have to have them all achieved at the same time because they all don’t have to be balanced in power if they are achieved at different levels with other build requirements.   You probably should not achieve guild thief at the same level another player achieves archmage.  The guild thief would be available earlier but not nearly as powerful as the archmage.  Not everything has to be equal and happen simultaneously.

Not having all the players achieve the prestige class at the exact same time will allow both the DM and player if they choose to role-play seeking out the prestige class to learn it however that looks in your game.  If one of your players wants to join the Harpers then undergoing a mission to earn their pin is exactly the sort of story element that you can take the time to work into your campaign and an adventure when you stagger what levels prestige classes are gained.  It may give a bit more meaning to the player if th e power gained by their character is handled in the story as well as in the mechanics.

I am sure a lot of you will have your own opinions about how this should be handled and which of these elements should make the cut in the next edition.  You may share my opinions but arrived there for entirely different reasons.  I would love to hear what you think should be included and why in 5th Edition.  I wish I could talk specifics but I think the designers are on the right track and I can't wait to see what the fans think when they get a chance to playtest the game soon.  Until next time, Roll Hard!


I Grew Up With D&D, Now I Want to Grow Out With 5E

I have grown up with Dungeons & Dragons.  Now three decades later I want to grow out with D&DNext, or 5th Edition, or whatever we are calling it today.  What I mean by that is I want my game to grant my players the ability to deal with more situations effectively, rather than just slapping on plusses, to Armor Class, Base Attack, Damage, and Saves.  I know that some gamers may enjoy that but since the threat level scales with your character I never felt all that much more powerful or competent.  When a PC has the abilities to deal with a variety of encounters, challenges, and situations and not just bonuses to reflect power you will end up with longevity in your system.  Perhaps if powers and feats would have been built with this in mind 4th Edition would have had more traction, and a new edition wouldn’t be on the way.  I will explain what I mean by all this in greater detail now.

Receiving static bonuses across the board that add to my ability to hit and damage have rarely made my characters feel more powerful.  This is probably because the monster that I was battling always had scaling hit points and defenses.  This is true of D & D historically and Pathfinder as well.  It probably applies to many other systems as well.  I hope the designers and playtesters cure it with the 5th Edition.  I always tried to think about why my higher level character never crossed paths with lower level opponents.  I justified that the intelligent beings could tell just how powerful I was from the sight of me and knew better.  The unintelligent beings were just lucky to have not crossed my path.  I always questioned why a higher level adventurer wouldn’t just follow up on plot hooks from when they were lower level and go and loot dungeons, crypts, and abandoned keeps.  Sure the gold and magic would be less but so would the threats.  Just a boring way to go about things and stories of legend are rarely boring.

I felt that D&D was on to something in 4th Edition with utility powers and skill utility powers.  These allowed PC’s to select from a variety of powers to help them overcome the problems in front of them.  Unfortunately the really cool ones fell to the way side and the ones that affected your character in combat were the only ones selected the majority of the time.  I think if you look up the skill utility City Rat and the class utility Invigorating Stride you will see how this was a good theory but did not implement as successfully as the designers would have liked.  Both are encounter powers but they are not equal whatsoever.  City Rat allows you to use a Streetwise check in place of a Stealth check against any enemies you have cover against at the end of a move as a free action.  That is a nice little extra ability for a warlock perhaps.  Invigorating Stride allows you to shift you Wisdom modifier as a move action as long as you don’t shift adjacent to an enemy and second wind at the same time.  Sure Invigorating Stride is a Ranger Class Utility and not available to other classes but the other classes all have their own version of clear cut choices.  Why on Oerth would you take anything else if you were a ranger?

The same sort of theory applies to feats.  There are many amazing feats but some of them will keep your character alive longer than others in most circumstances.  I never saw a player at first level select Camouflage in place of Weapon Focus or Expertise.  I never saw any player take Camouflage.  It is a +5 Stealth Bonus when you are outdoors and have any cover or concealment.  This is a situational bonus as you have to be out of doors and have cover.  The weapon feats on the other hand are used in nearly every round of every encounter of your characters career.  Feats that stack bonuses for attacks, damages, saves, and AC build your character up but don’t necessarily make your character any more interesting.  Camouflage would build your character out and Weapon Focus and Expertise feats build your character up.

The upward build with piles of crunch seem to shorten edition life.  3rd Edition D&D was the first edition to introduce true player options from the start of the edition with feats and open multi-classing.  4th Edition came closer behind third than any previous edition had come to its predecessor.  4th Edition is filled with crunch, feats, powers, backgrounds, themes, paragon paths, epic destinies, etc.  The shelf life between 4E and the 5E is the shortest shelf life yet.  When you build characters up instead of out you handcuff the DM to challenge the party as much.  Encounters that should require some thought, cunning, and bravery to overcome become watered down into hitting the enemy as hard and as fast as you can.

I have had hundreds and hundreds of hours of fun playing 4th Edition D&D and am excited about the playtest for DDNext.  We need to take the positive from each edition and polish it like a gnome jeweler and then use those mechanics, concepts, and ideas to build a new edition of the most beloved rpg of all time.  If monsters and threats don’t scale then characters don’t need to scale and can grow outwards and possibly only slightly upward during a whole adventuring career.  My favorite heroes could always handle any situation but not always by superior firepower and defenses.  Do you like your characters to grow up or out?  Let me know what you think.  Until next time, Roll Hard!


5E Killed the Edition Wars, At Least In My Group

I don't know if any and all of you saw what the Dungeon Bastard had to say in his wonderful youtube post , but it really got the old brain a spinning about where the squabbling about this system and that system has led us to over the last few years. I know it has in some ways splintered my own formerly rock solid friends that played rpgs to have a great time and see where the GM was going to take the story.  Then some of us wanted more realism in our game than 4E offered and looked at Pathfinder and Hero System. Others in my group want ease of encounter building that 4E D&D offered and the wealth of support. This was another argument in favor of both 4E and Pathfinder, so much support for the DM. Then the opportunity to playtest 5E and perhaps have something to say came up and I presented it to the group and what do you know, we all stopped arguing and for the first time in two years we're all on the same page in the same tome.

To fill you in so you understand the dynamic of my group and what the next iteration of Dungeons & Dragons has done to save my group some quick background is in order. I have been playing with my current group for the last decade. I had about twenty years rpg experiece then. Most of the group had only a little gaming experience or had not had the opportunity to play a whole lot of different styles of rpgs. We formed a tight group at our local coffee shop and routinely had many offers of other gamers who wanted to join our group but our ranks were closed. The intensity in our games was evident right from the start, I ran the games and the players trusted me to do a great job.  All was perfect in our gaming minor globe of invulnerability. Until the 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons was released that is.

The simplicity really appealed to one member of my group eager to try his hand in DMing and perhaps seeing this as a new thing where he could shine.  Still the simplicity of the rules turned off some of the group and since we had already played 3.5 D&D were not looking to go backwards as far as gamer by and complexity goes.  I had already introduced the group to GURPS and Champions and so those systems came into the mix for fantasy games.  Having really played the tar out of 3.5, Pathfinder never really overwhelmed any of my group to go out and a run a game using it.  We were all willing to play in any game that somebody else was willing to run in the Pathfinder system. Then I got a call that I was going to a D&D Summit at WotC and as one my group finally stopped arguing and asked in unison, "What's this all about?"  When I revealed to them that I had played the next edition and we were going to have the opportunity to playtest a new edition of D&D we were once again a group.

Not knowing what the playtest materials will consist of I had decided that if not sent an adventure, or an adventure that was setting specific I would be running the game in my home brewed world.  Something that all of my players over the last decade have helped to build with suggestion and gameplay.  My group was on board.  I said I would be running the game. My group was on board.  I told them my feelings on what I had playtested and my group was on board to go back and play some older editions of D&D that were released and replaced by newer editions before they started gaming.  This would allow them to keep with the focus of making a new game that all gamers of all styles to sit and enjoy together.  That included them and I think that really hit us all like a Power Word Stun.

Now I find our conversations tend to be about what elements and mechanics of previous editions of D&D and other rpgs that we enjoy.  For every idea that is brought to light the pros and cons of each and suggestions and how those might look in the new edition are now the meat of our conversations.  I suddenly feel rejuvenated to write some amazing adventures, my players seem poised to put their faith in a new system and in my skills as a DM.  Moving forward I hope that other groups and gamers as a whole knock it off and perhaps find a bit of unity in the fact we all enjoy the same hobby.  It isn't the system that matters.  It is the players, the DM, and a desire to have fun, socialize, and perhaps save the world that bring me to the table every week.  What is it that brings you the table?  Until next time, Roll Hard!


Are You Experienced?

As the stockings were being hung by the chimney with care and gifts were being wrapped and put under the tree, I had a thought (yes, sometimes that happens).  Level based systems, like D&D and Pathfinder are kind of like the presents under the tree, big boxes with lots of goodness inside. Point reward experience systems, like Mutants & Masterminds and Hero System, are kind of like the stockings, a smaller container that can potentially hold all kinds of little gifts.  Last week I pondered class vs. point systems as it relates to beginning a campaign. After the campaign has begun and the players are starting to reap the rewards of their adventures which system is preferred as a player and as a GM?

Level based systems have a certain comfort as I've played them for many years.  For this we will assume that the game is starting at first or very low level. As a player I realize that when I play a level based system I will more than likely start out a lot less powerful than if I played another system.  That doesn't matter because I know that I will reap a massive hoard of feats, attack bonuses, hit points, skill boosts, and other benefts when I gain a level and that feels good.  Sometimes I do feel that getting so much power at one time can make it hard for my character to work in harmony with the rest of the party.  I may be unaware of a new class power or feat that allows a situational advantage that one of the party now possesses.

As a DM I think that the level based system can cut both ways. It feels good to see your players get excited about their new bag of tricks and usually it will keep a decent level of interest in your game from your players that want to now use those new tricks.  Be careful with this because giving out levels is not a solution to not preparing a game properly.  Unfortunately I don't always get to work in these new character powers in a smooth way that makes great sense in the storyline.  This may be due to some new crunch in Dragon Magazine or Kobold Quarterly or just a last minute change in the mind of the player.  Sometimes I will fail to adjust a key encounter to properly challenge a freshly leveled party, but players rarely mind stomping the tar out of the bad guys, so that is a wash.

Level based systems as a player offer so much that you can't help but find it as attractive as that succubus you met at the tavern.  You may only start with a little bit of power but you quickly increase in power and days of firing your magic missile and ducking for cover to use your sling behind are rarely thought of again.  When I play level systems no matter what I receive I find myself wanting more.  That keeps me tuned into the game for awhile and can often pull my interest enough to keep my attention even when parts of the game might not interest me or have nothing to do with me.  The shine of new power will only keep my attention for so long.

When I'm the GM, I find that point based systems can sometimes lose players who enjoy the power gathering portion of an rpg.  I guess that the lure of a few character points to perhaps add a small something to their character lacks as incentive.  The players who are all about story and role-playing seem to love these systems at least initially. Over many years of gaming I have seen point based experience systems played for far less sessions than level based systems.  The campaigns seem to be shorter than level based systems, or at least in the groups I have played with.  What I'm saying is that point based experience systems seem to burn hot with some players, but their interest seems to fizzle out as they slowly add onto their initial power.

These are my perceptions and some systems such as Dark Heresy (thanks for the input), use a hybrid system but it still functions essentially as a point buy system.  I know that I like the story but the players sometimes might need a little more reward.  A good game should offer story rewards but making friends with the local constable or the head of the trades guild might not be what your players enjoy.  That is where an increase in their characters power on their character sheet needs to happen.  What type of experience system do you like to play in or GM?  I would like to hear what all of you have to say on the issue.  Until next time, Roll Hard!


Keeping It Classy or Not

The other night after I ran my Star Wars game using the old West End D6 version, a conversation broke out amongst my group. Part of it was about the positives and negatives of classes in role-playing games. This normally isn't something that I put much thought into personally.  I tend to play the game that is in front of me and then alter that as needed to suit my gaming preferences. Like Yoda I sat down to reflect upon the question and have this to say I do.

Games that have classes will limit in some way the choices that players can make. That is pretty obvious but not an obvious negative for everyone. Usually if players select different classes it tends to create a more well rounded party. Further defining the classes by roles like 4E Dungeons & Dragons has makes it really hard to mess up if you have at least one of each role. Furthermore there are several classes that can do each role so you have some variety. No longer is the new guy the cleric because your party needed a healer and nobody wanted to be that class. Just because a game has classes doesn't mean somebody isn't going to be the healer.

Most games with classes allow you to spread out a little bit as well with some sort of way to take skills, talents, traits, or however these things are defined, from at least one different class than your base class. Once again D&D and Pathfinder have multi-classing and hybrid builds, a pile of feats, backgrounds, themes, and classes to allow you to mix and match a bit. These class systems also allow for quick character creation in my games unless I get overwhelmed by option overload. Sometimes with classes you also get a built in role-play mechanic that you don't have to come up with yourself. Divine classes are excellent for providing you something to play your character off of, your diety and all the goodness (or wickedness) that comes with their domain, power, ethos, etc.

The con to the class system is obviously that perhaps anything you can imagine can't be duplicated. That is probably true of any system whether it has classes or not but more so for a class based system. Although in a point buy system you can't necessarily make anything you want either. Try making Rogue from the X-Men or the Scarlet Witch from the Avengers in Hero System or GURPS, two point based systems and see how short your points fall. Those two examples are obviously the exception and not the rule, but they do support the argument.

I have always thought that 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons did an excellent job of mixing the two when the Skills & Powers book was released towards the end. This supplement, if you haven't played it, allowed the players to pick classes and then select abilities that were associated with that class to build their own version. This allowed flexibility without the time consumption during character creation that point buy systems can have. That being said I enjoy the way I can craft my character to my concept almost always exactly as I imagine, assuming that imagining is not too powerful and exceeds my points.

Personally I try to not get caught up in character generation mechanics or game mechanics in general. I feel that too much focus is put upon that and not where it needs to be, the story. I don't think I am alone in feeling that way. Some days I might want to build my own character with points describing everything about him or her in great detail. Other times I might want to play something last minute and want the simple freedom of a quick character generation system like Savage Worlds. I don't feel that any one system does everything right, and if you are going to role-play then you are going to role-play regardless of what system you are using.

I am curious if the players and GM's that use class systems do it because it is easier, more accessible, faster, or something else? I am also curious if gamers out ther play point buy systems because they don't feel that they can spread their wings with class restrictions, an intellectual high from number crunching to get things just right, or something else entirely? Let me know what you have to say. Until next time, Roll Hard!